Silhouetted couple in bedroom standing at balcony door

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
—William Blake

What do your day-to-day interactions with your spouse look like? For most people, the day is a stream of tasks, obligations, child-centred activities, work duties, housework, and, if you are lucky, a little fun. When many of the couples I work with look at their relationship, they find they spend very little time actually interacting with each other. And, given the reality of busy lives, it is not always possible to drop everything and go on romantic trips or dates, as nice as these times are. What is more important is how you interact with your partner daily. One easy way to deepen connection and ensure your relationship stays on solid ground each day is to make use of “micro-dates.”

Relationship researcher John Gottman found that 5.5 hours is the optimal amount of time a couple needs to spend with each other every week in order to keep their relationship fueled with positive sentiment. At first glance this number seems hard to reach for many of the couples I work with; husbands work away in the oilfield, partners have different work schedules (night vs. day shift) and kids; all of these things make for a busy life. Dates and get-aways are not in themselves a bad idea, but, like stress, saving up outlets for weekends or late at night does little to give you what you need in the moment. More beneficial to your relationship is to create some brief, focused interactions with your partner as you go about your day.

True intimacy is built and maintained through day-to-day interactions, what Gottman calls “bids for connection.” These are the passing comments, touches, and verbal interactions you have with your partner: “Looks like rain today”; “Yeah, sure does;” a hug reciprocated, or a brief chat. There is a cumulative positive effect when you interact with your partner for brief moments. This reciprocated interaction keeps your relationship recharged and heads off miscommunication. Interactions can involve rituals of connection—a kiss goodbye, a greeting and hug on reunion at the end of a day, or having dinner together (or as a family). Another way of enhancing relationship well-being is what I call “micro-dates.”

Micro-dates are brief and focused periods of time, usually between 5 and 15 minutes, which you spend with your partner in the midst of your day. They can include a mini-date, such as meeting for coffee over lunchtime, or a brief period of time spent together at home–sharing a bath, having a conversation about the day, or having an eyes-open 5 minute snuggle while day-shift partner wakens and as night-shift partner goes to bed. Below are a few suggestions on how to use micro-dates to deepen intimacy.

Tips on Micro-dating:

  1. Find the Common Points of Intersection: Talk with your partner about the importance of some short, shared time and map out the moments where you could interact for a few minutes.
  1. Brainstorm Micro-date ideas: Have a talk about possibilities–ideas of things the two of you could do together. Make sure you also talk about who initiates micro-dates and how to share this initiation so that it is not always the same person. [See below for examples]
  1. Use “Redos” when a Date Fails: Talk about what happens if one partner initiates a micro-date and the other does not notice, or refuses. A back-up plan is for either partner to ask for a “redo,” an opportunity to try the activity a little later (in the same day), or have the busy person lets the other know when he or she is free.
  1. Prepare to be Spontaneous: Make a list of some ideas for spontaneous micro-dates. For example, while watching your child’s soccer game you could share a thermos of hot tea and bring a blanket to cuddle. It may sound paradoxical to “prepare to be spontaneous” but preparation creates a framework which allows spontaneity to happen and sets priorities, rather leaving things to chance–waiting for free-time to appear. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, life’s business soon fills spare time unless you make connecting with your spouse a priority.
  1. Practice Makes Perfect: When you first practice any skill it can feel a little awkward and mechanical. Remember your first date as a teen? With practice, however, you can make micro-dates a fun and natural part of your day.

Ideas for Micro-dates:

  • A rainy day walk with umbrellas to get the mail together.
  • A hot-tub dip together while your children are in their swim lessons.
  • 7 second kiss in the morning and a check-in about what will happen during the day for each person.
  • A 20 second hug on returning home and a sharing of the day’s highs and lows (be sure to avoid giving your partner advice unless asked for it; just listen with empathy).
  • A daily 10 minute after-supper chat while the kids clean up.
  • Meet your spouse for lunch during your work day for a 15 minute cup of coffee or a brief walk.
  • Sit in the rear seat and give your partner a neck rub or shoulder massage for 10 minutes while driving.
  • Comb your wife’s hair after she finishes a bath.
  • Wash the floor together, making a game of gently bumping as often as you can.
  • Go for a walk or take the kids to park and, while they play, tell your partner 5 things you appreciate most about him or her.
  • Using Skype or Face-time, one partner can read a favorite book or health tidbit while the other goes to sleep. This works well when time-zones are different.

No time is better than now to start using micro-dates in your day. What are some ideas you have for creating connective moments with your partner?

And now,” said Daniel, looking at his watch, “as time and tide wait for no man, my trusty partner.” (Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit)